This article has been published as part of a series of profiles on West Orange Board of Education Candidates. All candidates will be featured individually during the week leading up to the November 2019 election.
WEST ORANGE, NJ — Meet Gary Rothstein, one of four candidates vying for two seats on the West Orange Board of Education.
Gary Rothstein, an 11-year resident of West Orange, attended Los Angeles Public Schools and graduated California State University, Northridge with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature. He currently works as the account director at a marketing agency. He and his wife, Sheena Kitchen, have been married for 16 years, and their daughter, Abby, is a seventh grader at Roosevelt Middle School.
Q: Why are you running for board of education and why do you feel you deserve the job?
A: I’m running for the BOE to actively support high-quality education for all students in the West Orange Public School District. There are a number of ways to provide this support, and I will bring 3 perspectives to the Board that make me a strong voice for students, educators, and taxpayers.
First, I’m the parent of a West Orange public school student. My daughter has had an excellent education from Kindergarten through her current 7th grade. I’m grateful to live in this community with outstanding schools and teachers. And like many parents I speak with I want our community to remain 100% committed to maintaining quality and to making ongoing improvements.
Second, I was an English teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Having worked in a large, complex, and diverse school system, I’m very familiar with the challenges and opportunities West Orange faces daily. I will be a strong advocate for ensuring teachers have the tools they need to provide top-quality education to our students, from resources to professional development.
And finally, for the last 19 years I’ve been in private business looking out for my client’s interests. My responsibilities at a marketing agency in New York include managing budgets and ensuring quality results. Taxes in West Orange are high, and our students and taxpayers deserve excellence for what taxpayers invest. Our schools are very strong—I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished. But we can do more to improve results. We have a responsibility to taxpayers to provide value. Schools and education are expensive, and well worth the investment. Controlling budgets is a real challenge. But through strategic planning, data analysis, measurement, and evaluation, I can help ensure that our taxes are spent wisely, reducing waste and improving student outcomes.
Q: What do you believe is the most important issue in this local election? How would you change it?
A: The most important immediate issue is restoring the morale in the school district by building trust and a respectful tone between the administration and the teachers. There has been some damage in recent years that has hurt our district. It’s critical that our teachers are supported and listened to—they are closest to the students and can see most clearly what the needs are. It’s also important to ensure that West Orange is attractive to incoming teaching talent. Salaries are only part of that equation. Incoming talent wants to work in an environment of respect, knowing they will receive mentorship from colleagues, and will have the support of their administration to focus on effective education in their classrooms.
To his credit, Dr. Cascone seems to be up this task. He seems to be sincere, professional, data-driven, and interested in long-term success in this district. From the Board, I can help to restore morale by ensuring our policies, goals, and actions take into consideration the issue of morale and respect. I can push to improve transparency. And I can work with Dr. Cascone and the other members of the Board to reestablish West Orange an attractive district to new talent.
Q: Would you support moving forward with a referendum for capital improvements or would you prefer to support capital improvements solely through the annual budgets?
A: My preference would be to address capital improvements though annual budgets. But from what I see at recent Board meetings, I believe the infrastructure improvements required are beyond what can be addressed by regular annual budgets and a referendum will be needed. This is a great example of why we need Board members with a business background. The facilities requirements and costs need to be carefully analyzed to ensure that we’re budgeting carefully and borrowing only what we must. A referendum may be unavoidable. But keeping to costs to a minimum will be very important.
Q: What are the strengths and weaknesses of the West Orange Public Schools district?
A: Among our strengths are our strong academic programs (with a great recent AP scores report and students graduating to some of the best universities in the country), our diverse student population and faculty, our incredible arts programs (awarding winning high school band, a music and drama program second to none, and stunning visual arts education), athletics, technical education, and some of the best students around! If you haven’t been to a PTA or Board meeting to hear the high school mentors or the Board of Ed student representatives, please come see them. It restores faith in the future!
Among our weaknesses, I believe we can do better promoting how great our schools are. It’s important to change a false perception that West Orange schools are not as strong as we really are. This will help us retain student talent instead of losing them to private schools or other districts. It will also help increase property values as parents see West Orange a place to move because of the outstanding schools!
We can also do better in outreach to our bi-lingual community. Often, they are not made to feel as welcome in our schools as they should be, and we need involvement from all of our parents. The more parent participation, the better for the students and the schools.
Q: Tell us about your other career and/or other ways you are involved in the community.
A: I’ve been a public school teacher, a summer camp counselor, worked for a not-for-profit organization, managed web and other applications development projects in the publishing and trade show industry, been a project manager and an account director at a marketing agency. My career has taken some turns that have surprised me! But I’ve learned from every job and each one has provided an opportunity into the next. And at the core of each is a focus on goals, objectives, and measuring success.
I’ve been involved in the community through volunteer work with Big Brothers of America, as a baseball and soccer coach, as a PTA member and on the PTA Executive Boards at both Edison and Roosevelt Middle Schools. I organized the Gregory Neighborhood Halloween Parade for 8 years, and I founded the West Orange Jitney Facebook page, which helped to improve service at no cost by establishing multi-directional communications between the program administrators and riders.
West Orange is large enough to offer so much opportunity and so much diversity! And it’s small enough that government is accessible and volunteer opportunities really mean something. I’m grateful to live in this community that offers so much, and so many ways to give back.